When Lahore runs dry, CM Punjab's residence in Jati Umra will not be far behind.

Salman Rashid July 28, 2012

About four weeks ago, this paper carried on its business page an excellent piece on the looming water shortage Lahore faces. But like the proverbial ostrich, we carry on with our collective heads deep in the sand happily oblivious to the problem.

I go cycling very early in the morning and I see servants washing, yes, washing the roads in front of their masters’ bungalows in Model Town. I also see cars being washed under full pressure of the garden hose on the ramp outside these homes. On a few occasions, I have asked the men why they could not use the bucket because the wastage would eventually lead to a water famine in the city.

The answer was always, “Water is God’s gift to us and there is no way he will permit it to run out”. Now this is unarguable logic. Any debate and you can end up dead for blasphemy from the stoning of a 20,000-strong mob that arises in minutes as if by magic. Most of the time, the servants do not even permit me to argue. They brusquely tell me to mind my own business.

But such practices are not confined to Model Town alone. Drive through any locality and you can see the amount of water being wasted washing the roads and cars.

Then there is the business of watering the medial gardens of some main thoroughfares. In a civilised country, such watering is done during the hours of early morning (two to five am) when temperature is the lowest and evaporation minimum. In Lahore, the watering takes place at midday. Admittedly, in July and August evaporation is low because of the hellish humidity, but from April through June, half of the water emitted by the sprinklers goes up into the air.

Two years ago, I met an officer-type supervising the gardeners on a street in south Lahore. I stopped for a chat and brought up the subject of watering during the day. When I told him about evaporation, his speaking look told me that he thought me completely loco. The man almost burst out laughing when I suggested working hours of the gardeners be adjusted to enable watering in pre-dawn darkness.

There is also the business of planting eucalyptus. Banned, not once but twice (why not just enforce the first ban?), by the Government of Punjab in the past 15 years, the tree continues to be planted along waterways and new housing estates in Lahore. The water-guzzling eucalyptus, imported from Australia during the blighted reign of Ayub Khan, now scars this good land from Sost in the north to Jivani in the far southwest.

Research carried out several years ago by the Nuclear Institute of Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), Faisalabad shows that a mature eucalyptus sucks up as much as 100 litres of water in 24 hours. That is, each eucalyptus in Lahore is, in effect, a mini tubewell. There must be millions of mature eucalyptus in Lahore, sucking up hundreds of million litres of water every day.

Now, we are a wasteful lot. We do not have our eye on the future. We wash the roads and cars with abandon. But why do we need the accursed Australian illegal alien in our midst to assist us in our unholy work?

In 30 years, Lahore will be an arid cinder. The canal that makes the city pretty will just be a wind-blown ditch filled with the city’s rubbish; most of the trees, but the eucalyptus, will be dead; neighbours at one another’s throats for filching one extra pail of water from the government hand out and dust blowing everywhere. But most folks who read this warning will today label me a mad alarmist.

I have several times thought of seeing the honourable chief minister to request him to order eradication of the eucalyptus. Then I received a YouTube link featuring the Jati Umra palace of the Sharif family: the estate has only dozens of towering eucalyptus, some palm trees and ornamental bushes.

When Lahore runs dry, Jati Umra will not be far behind. But I know, if I do get a chance to speak to the good CM, he will, like everyone else so far, take me for a total loony.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2012.